Last week, a lone gunman named Elliot Rodger murdered six people in Isla Vista, California. When investigating the crime, police and journalists found a 141-page manifesto and a YouTube account filled with chillingly disturbing writing. Elliot, it seemed, felt victimized and wronged because the beautiful women he’d had his eye on refused his advances. He complained of being a virgin at 22 and never having kissed a girl before. The day before the attack, Rodger published a 7-minute diatribe on YouTube, which, among other things, said “I wanted a girlfriend, I wanted sex, I wanted love, affection, adoration. You think I am unworthy of it. That is a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.”
Rodgers was a member of multiple Pickup Artist and Men’s Rights Activist forums, which some are pointing to as responsible for Rodgers’ actions. To what extent did mental illness, misogyny, sexuality, or lifestyle influence Rodger’s actions? What, if anything, can be done to prevent people like him and actions like his in the future? TOL weighs in.
Elliot Rodger was in all likelihood a psychopath. When it comes down to it, he is the one who allegedly decided to pull the trigger, to kill six people and himself, as well as injuring seven others. He, an individual, decided to kill other individuals. I always cringe when, in the light of tragedies like this one, society is often found to be the blame. He was bullied too much, played too many violent video games, or in this case, The Hunger Games (for which his father is an assistant director) and its depiction of teen-on-teen violence contributed to the murderous rampage. While my gut reaction is to remind everyone that Rodger was a sick individual who made this decision, it is hard for me to ignore some of the values of “society” that may have contributed to his thoughts leading up to the shooting spree.
In short, I wholly believe that society, and more specifically both the feminist and men’s rights activist (MRA) movements have caused us to place too much value on sex and sexuality.
Over and over again in his video Rodger talks about how all he wanted is sex, umm I mean “love” from women. But he was ignored, despite being the ‘perfect man.’ All too often, I believe we are taught that we are primarily sexual beings, and those needs come first, and our value comes from the realization of that sexuality. Y’all, we are awesome, complex, beautifully created individuals. Sex is awesome, it is great and can be very fulfilling, but it isn’t the end-all-be-all of our existence.
Elliott Rodger’s actions are horrifying. His justifications, rhetoric, and manifestos are even more jarring. His rants illustrate the common profile of rampage shooters–juvenile, narcissistic, depressed, and angry. While Rodger’s words certainly make him easily to vilify or make fun of, we shouldn’t forget that he was also a victim of this tragedy. When I listen to his YouTube posts or read “My Twisted World,” I can recognize that Rodger is deeply misogynistic but feel more compelled to sympathize with rather than criticize him. The deep insecurities he had about his social isolation stem from the gender and sexual norms imposed on all of us, women included. The significance society places on sexual experience, finding love or being romantically accepted is not inherently patriarchal. Rodger simply found “solutions” to these burdens through misogynistic teachings like “The Pickup Artist.” We have now learned that Satanism isn’t to blame for the murders in West Memphis and Marilyn Manson shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris. We should be hesitant to blame misogynistic rhetoric, no matter how outwardly offensive, for the murders committed by a young man who seemed to be more deeply motivated by his inability to fit into mainstream gender norms.
I have said before and will say again that mass shootings are not about one thing. Society influences people and individuals in complex ways such that even our best guesses about psychology and sociology are likely way too flat to paint a true picture. But I don’t know how anyone can look at this case and not see misogyny at work here. Rodger’s manifesto is not “I am alone and confused and feeling worthless so I’m going to make myself noticed before I die.” No, rather, it is “I wanted sex, I wanted love, affection, adoration [from women]. You think I am unworthy of it. That is a crime that can never be forgiven. If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.” From the horse’s mouth. These are words not just of a kid who believes sex is the source of his self-worth, but also a kid who believes that he is entitled to women’s bodies and decides to kill them when they won’t give them to him.
I am not pointing out the misogyny in Rodger’s actions because of one action. I am doing it because the difference between Rodger’s actions and the actions of millions of people around the country is only a matter of degree. Remember the kid who stabbed a girl because she wouldn’t go to prom with him? The sentiment of his manifesto is found in countless places online. They are the primary axioms behind pickup artists. It is the reason a man openly leered at me as I walked home from the train station just now. What Rodger’s did is the most extreme, but he is not the first. If we don’t step up to address misogyny, he won’t be the last.
Misogyny is not entirely to blame—although Rodger’s express entitlement to affection, sex, and attention is a manifestation of it. Misandry, as this guy claims, even less so. Childhood divorce, porn, isolation, material affluence, Asperger’s Syndrome, lack of boundaries, social ineptitude are all part of the picture. But as Gina pointed out, we can run the gamut of the usual, causative factors to account for the antisocial, violent, or psychopathic behavior of one individual and still form a woefully inadequate picture. Despite the apparent pervasiveness of violence in American culture or in the world, singularly violent acts are still jarring and ineffable to us (I say “apparent” because it is not the case that the prevalence of violence in the contemporary world is the worst that it has ever been in human history). So we grasp for the most complete explanations. We are desperate to figure out what went wrong. This is an understandable response, but we should not lose sight of Elliot Rodger’s individual, moral culpability. I do not think, for a second, that he could not have acted otherwise. Individuals do live in complex, social worlds and are influenced by a variety of factors-internal and external. But the complexity of our social existence does not relieve us of the responsibility of our individual actions. One man was responsible for the death of six people (seven, counting Rodger among the dead).
Caroline K. Gorman
Elliot Rodger may or may not have been suffering from mental illness. It may or may not have been severe. However, his mental illness has nothing to do with his actions here. Mental illness and violence are not correlated. The unfortunate truth is that humans don’t need to be ‘crazy’ in order to murder. The history of humanity pretty clearly demonstrates that murder is natural for human beings. As terrifying as it is, nothing more than feelings of anger, desperation and entitlement are needed to account for these horrific murders. To blame ‘mental illness’ is a way to avoid some hard truths about toxic masculinity and male entitlement. The MRA community needs to step up and take responsibility for the expectations and anger that it encouraged in Elliot Rodger. I doubt they will, but of course it’s so much easier to blame someone for being ‘crazy.’
To waste a moment’s thought on analyzing the actions of this murderer gives his existence on earth more importance than it deserves. My condolences go out to the families of the victims and the killer, but the world is a better place without him in it. Let’s not make him into a martyr for other sexually-frustrated young men.
I don’t have a unique perspective to offer on this topic. It’s unfortunate that Elliot Rodgers felt entitled to women, which led him to violence and the murder of six people. And I have sympathy for his family, who knew something was wrong with him but were unable to get him the help he needed.